How to Take a Compliment

How to Take a Compliment

By John Maxwell


“If you help other people get what they want, they’ll help you get what you want.”

When I first heard Zig Ziglar teach that, I was a young leader making a lot of mistakes: I was too focused on myself, my vision, and my goals. Thinking about other people was a significant shift for me—one that’s paid dividends for the past 30 years.

That’s why I teach people to add value to others, with the understanding that people would return the favor in time. Over the years I’ve shared my thoughts on investing in others, pouring into them daily, and increasing your capacity for that discipline.

It’s still my guiding principle, and I’m in a stage of life where I’m consistently seeing the return on that daily investment. The value I’ve tried to add is being repaid in greater measure.

What I’ve not taught as much is how to respond when people want to add value to you. That’s because the answer is obvious—you let them, with gratitude! But just because something is obvious, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy.

I see a lot of leaders who struggle to accept generosity in any form. Whether it’s awards, praise, or even a financial return, there are always leaders who fumble the transition from giver to recipient. And one of the most common ways leaders struggle to accept value from others is with the simplest form of added value: a compliment.

I’ve been around plenty of leaders, some on my own team, who can’t handle a sincere compliment. These leaders respond in any number of ways: self-deprecation, deflection, redirection, and sometimes outright refusal. At the heart of these responses is insecurity, which is a dangerous mindset for a leader to possess. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone else believe in you?

When you lead people by adding value to them, it is always special when they can add value to you. Often, the people who work with us know of no better way to add that value than in the form of sincere, affirming words. As leaders, we need to receive their words well if for no other reason than to maintain a good relationship.

I want to share with you four simple habits you can develop as a leader that will prepare you to receive compliments well.

  1. Know your strengths—self-awareness is essential for every leader, and it begins with knowing where you’re most gifted. When you know what you’re good at, you can appreciate when other people acknowledge and compliment your strengths.
  2. Know your weaknesses—the flip side of self-awareness is knowing where you’re not so gifted. Though it’s painful to acknowledge, knowing where you’re weak creates the win-win of deflecting insincere praise and accepting genuine correction.
  3. Keep a humble spirit—arrogant people might receive praise, but it’s rarely genuine, and never helpful. Leaders who keep a humble spirit are more likely to add value and receive value in return. Despite what some leaders think, humility isn’t refusing allpraise; it’s refusing praise that isn’t deserved.
  4. Genuinely compliment others—it may seem like circular logic, but to receive a compliment, you must know how to give a compliment. The heart that can give genuine praise will always be prepared to receive it.

Zig’s advice is a two-way street—you have to give to get, but when it’s time to get, you need to receive well. This may seem like small potatoes compared to other leadership topics but trust me: the people who want to add value to you will appreciate your mastery of these four steps.

I’ve never regretted adding value to others—or receiving value from people who wished to add it.


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